Review: The Gathering: Love, Bristol Old Vic
4.0Overall Score

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The Gathering: Love brings together performers and writers for a live-streamed evening of theatrical entertainment, from one of the UK’s most beloved theatres. As it says on the tin, the show isn’t a huge scale production but rather a gathering of creatives who all aim to share something about love through their own specific medium, hosted by Artistic Director Tom Morris.

Kicking things off is performance poet Malaika Kegode, delivering a fresh piece of spoken word poetry with Coolness. The poem, with its melodious nature, reflects on race and stereotype, challenging perceptions both inwardly and externally. Kegode’s calm reading exposes a clarity of thought and an openness that helps to naturally reveal her message as if it were your idea — complex and simple at the same time.

Up next, Olivier nominee Audrey Brisson reprises her titular role from the musical Amélie as she performs ‘Stay’. Even with the obligatory singing-on-zoom issues that befall her, Brisson brings intense vulnerability in a truly heartfelt performance. The circumstances lend an incredibly intimate feel to the song, as if it is a shared secret between her and the audience.

In stark contrast, Dame Siân Phillips and Michael Byrne are next to take the reins performing Adrian Mitchell’s Beattie Is Three and W. B. Yeats’ The Song of Wandering Aengus, respectively, followed by an excerpt from their 2010 production at the Bristol Old Vic of Romeo & Juliet. As veterans of stage and screen, both actors provide deeply connected, honest performances of their pieces, filled with passion and understanding. Their rendition of the Pilgrim Sonnet from Romeo & Juliet is incredibly touching, managing exceptionally well to maintain the momentum and rhythm across this online performance.

Chiming in next is Sir Patrick Stewart, with a pre-recorded love letter to the Theatre Royal (as the Bristol Old Vic was formerly known). Reflecting on his time at the theatre when he was studying to be an actor, he recounts seeing many well-known names on the stage, lingering on a time when he watched Peter O’Toole tread the boards. Stewart’s tender message avoids being overly deep or sentimental, it feels more like watching a moment in time, capsuled into words.

Almost certainly added to bring a touch of variety to the production, Chris Cox blasts onto the stream with a somewhat unappealing mind-reading act. Involving members of the virtual audience causes the performance to lose steam as it progresses, mostly due to internet connection problems. Nevertheless, Cox charges on with unending enthusiasm, but ultimately fails to entertain. Sadly, even with all his charm and dry wit, the trick is just not very interesting and feels overly clumsy.

Introducing a far more laid-back tone, Travis Alabanza joins the show to read a section of their hit play Burgerz, exploring the structure of the archetypal burger. Alabanza’s performance is so conversational that it seems almost effortless, contrasting completely with the complexity of the detailed picture they are painting with their words.

For the grand finale, Louis Maskell joins Brisson to share a pre-recorded duet of ‘Beaty and the Beast’ from the theatre’s acclaimed production The Grinning Man. Recorded separately, the two performances were seamlessly merged to create a stunning rendition of the song. Filled with nuance, the pair’s rapport comes across clearly even through the great digital divide.

Throughout, Morris’ candid Q&As with the artists make the event feel unique, adding a touch of exclusivity that is the real selling point of the evening. With the reopening of theatres so nearly in reach, The Gathering: Love is a great chance to reflect on the year that has past and the passion we feel for the theatre.

The Gathering: Love was streamed live on 11 March 2021. For more information about the Bristol Old Vic Theatre visit their website.